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- 2014 - June - 30th -
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Darlene Jackson attended the Ask-A-Lawyer event. Bobby Bell was there to greet and assist.

Pro bono spotlight: Legal guidance provided to dozens at Ask-A-Lawyer

By Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair

For the past five years, the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corp. has held its annual Health and Neighborhood Day event. Also for the past five years, Ask-A-Lawyer has been one of the many services offered at the event.

Health and Neighborhood Day is a community service effort. Local nonprofits provide information on assistance they offer in the community, bags of groceries are given away, a band plays, health screenings are offered and attendees have the opportunity to speak to pro bono attorneys.

Paul Tutwiler, the executive director of Northwest Jacksonville Community Development, said the group’s board, staff and volunteers work hard on the signature event.

“Our numbers are not final yet, but it was the best attended so far,” he said. “We bagged and gave out over 500 bags of food to the community in addition to many health screenings. We look forward to next year’s as an even greater event.”

Local pro bono attorneys counseled 40 people on more than 50 legal matters in one-on-one interviews.

Attorneys advised in the areas of family law, probate, guardianship, criminal law, bankruptcy, collections, foreclosure, social security, contracts, real estate, landlord/tenant, immigration, and personal injury.

Spanish speakers were available to provide translation.

The pro bono attorneys included Sarah Allison, Alessandro Apolito, Kameisha Bailey, Melina Buncome, Dan Bean, Laura Gapske, Monica Lenoci, Ben Montemayor, Omer Ors, George Spencer, Cyndy Trimmer and Latangie Williams.

Florida Coastal School of Law students Jose Valdes, Lauren Moore, Paul Fore, and Jessica DeLeon provided administrative assistance and watched the consultation interviews.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Board Member Bobby Bell helped welcome attendees, sign them

in and answered general questions.

Each Ask-A-Lawyer event aims to provide legal guidance and direction, as well as information on additional community resources for persons in need.

Attendees may be referred on to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, The JBA Lawyer Referral Service, Three Rivers Legal Services and/or to a community service agency.

The events are made possible because of the collaboration of The Jacksonville Bar Association, The D.W. Perkins Bar Association, The Hispanic Bar, Florida Coastal School of Law, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the Jacksonville City Council.

The quarterly events are held in locations that are easily accessible to low-income persons and the under-served.

The volunteers served each person who came seeking information with respect and compassion.

They answered questions, provided information on legal options and community resources, and in many cases offered hope and direction.

Facing a problem requires courage and energy. Taking a first step toward solving the problem requires even more.

For many of the attendees, Ask-A-Lawyer provided the information needed to enable the attendees to take that first step toward stability and resolution.

One attendee expressed enthusiasm and deep appreciation: “I came to Ask-A-Lawyer here two years ago. The attorney gave me some steps to take to resolve my legal issue. I took those steps and solved my problem.”

Another person came in visibly anxious and discouraged. He left smiling, joking and relaxed.

One of the volunteers commented to him, “You look like a different person than when you came in.” He responded, “I feel so much better. I know what I need to do.”

The goal of Ask-A-Lawyer is to take information and guidance directly to members of our community who may not otherwise be able access the expertise of an attorney.

We know that, as attorneys, we don’t always tell people what they want to hear.

However, with the belief that knowledge is power, we know that with sound information and direction, people are better equipped to get the help they need and/or resolve their matters themselves.

Access to the legal community must not be limited to those who can afford to pay for that access. It is informed advocacy on both sides that protects the integrity of our system of justice.

Ask-A-Lawyer events empower and encourage persons to effectively resolve their legal issues and the barriers they

face.

The efforts of the entire pro bono Ask-A-Lawyer team of June 21 are applauded and appreciated.

Attorneys interested in these and other pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chair of The JBA Pro Bono Committee at kathy.para@jaxlegalaid.org.

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